Senior Professor Methika Vithanage of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura said that as a professor involved in aquatic geology and a researcher of epidemics, she strongly recommends only cremation for the dead bodies of Covid-19 patients.
Q: If dead bodies of Covid-19 patients are buried in other countries, why can’t we in Sri Lanka?
A: In other countries which carry out burial, the land area is exceptionally large compared to the dense and high population of Sri Lanka. In addition, according to the topography of Sri Lanka, many rivers flow throughout the country. Sri Lanka receives high rainfall and high temperatures. Most notably, other countries do not use groundwater. Drinking water from wells are used for daily consumption in this country. Compared to other countries, Sri Lanka has a unique position and geography.
Q: Does research need to be carried out on burials?
A: No. We as scientists express our views in association with research papers that are currently being published in the world. As a hydrogeologist I may not do research on everything related to hydrogeology, but we have data on scientific research. There is an understanding of scientific methodology. Before the research, however, we read the research papers of previous research conducted in the world. Based on my research, I have a particularly good understanding of what to do if groundwater is polluted according to hydrogeology.
Q: How does the virus spread when you bury bodies of Covid-19 patients 5 feet under?
A: The data we get changes regularly as we do scientific research. The virus not being found to be transmitted through water so far, does not mean that it does not transmit from water.
We are now in a state of uncertainty. This virus can remain inactive when added to water and become active when ingested. That’s why we say there are more things we don’t know here. We know that this virus is destroyed at high temperatures, which is why we need to use that known method.
If a corpse is buried, one liter per kilogram of ooze will flow. If you put it in a 60 kg body, 60 liters of Ojas will flow. Research conducted in Canada over 20 years ago has confirmed that these are added to underground well water, which is why wells built in cemeteries and crematoriums are not used.
Q: Why does Sri Lanka have a problem other countries below sea level do not have?
I did my postgraduate studies in the Netherlands. The Netherlands and the Maldives are not groundwater consuming countries. They consume seawater by desalination. But in Sri Lanka under ground well water is used by many households. Therefore, the situation is different between these countries and Sri Lanka.
Q: Is it right to release corona patients’ feces into the environment?
A: The virus is excreted in the feces of corona patients and we must be careful when disposing of patients’ belongings. Coronary heart disease does not last long but carcasses take a long time to digest. Ojas flow over a long period of time. Scientific tests take a while.
My opinion is that you should not get into trouble by doing something unknown until it is confirmed by tests.
For example, in Denmark, Sweden, a type of fur breed was infected. In those countries a large number of these moose are being killed. There are rats in Sri Lanka that dig the ground like moose. What do we do if the virus infects the rat population from a carcass after burial? Can we destroy the rat population like the deer in Denmark? Therefore, decisions must be made carefully. Because we know very little about this virus.
Q: Is it okay to bury Covid-19 dead bodies in Mannar?
A: If you take an island like Thalai Mannar, it has sandy soil, similar to Kalpitiya. Fertilizers added to the soil by farmers in Kalpitiya will soon be added to the ground water. Due to the presence of sandy soils, the soil in Mannar also adds to the soil very quickly.2
There is a layer of limestone in the Mannar area with limestone holes. These holes are connected to each other and groundwater fills these holes. If we bury a dead body in such an area, it can join the groundwater very quickly.
For example, a diesel power plant in Chunnakam, Jaffna had added fuel to the soil. This diesel started to emerge from the wells which were 5 km away from that place. Groundwater pollution is a serious problem because we cannot purify groundwater.